It happens every spring, some pitcher shows up to camp and his velocity just isn’t where it’s supposed to be. It’s usually no big thing, but last season it happened to Phil Hughes and we watched him go from an 18-win starter to a guy who was eventually demoted to the bullpen.
That’s the same Hughes who showed up with huge expectations and was once ranked as the best pitching prospect in baseball. So it’s hard to blame Yankees fans for being a little touchy when new acquisition Michael Pineda not lighting up radar guns. Beyond just velocity readings, both pitchers showed up to camp out of shape and a lot of people are saying, ‘here we go again.’
It’s now been three starts for Pineda and although nobody is even hitting the ball hard off of him, his velocity is still down in the 90-92 mph range. An improvement from 88-90 where he was in his first start, but only slight. Like I said though, this happens to somebody almost every spring so should we be worried?
He still isn’t even stretched out to the point where he could pitch an entire game, his velocity being a few ticks down is putting the cart before the horse.
Besides that though, there is evidence that this really isn’t a big deal.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs examined Pineda’s PitchFX log from last season and didn’t think so. Cameron pointed out that Pineda may actually be doing this on purpose to conserve arm strength and being that this is still early spring that would be smart.
Essentially, this development just isn’t new. Pineda spent a good part of the second half of 2011 experimenting with pitching at reduced velocities early in games, and then he cranked up the volume when he needed to as the game wore on.
That’s just one guy looking at the data though. For a second opinion from somebody who actually followed Pineda closely last season we turn to Mariners blogger Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing who wrote this last June:
But on many occasions, we’ve also seen Pineda dial it back. This was worrisome at first, since we’re all hyper-observant and overprotective. Then we came to learn that Pineda was doing it on purpose to conserve his energy for bigger spots. I don’t know how well that works for him, but I’m certainly not going to bicker with the thought process. Starters don’t need to throw their fastballs as hard as they can every single time.
So besides the fact that it’s still early and people who are worried about this are probably just getting ahead of themselves, there is evidence that this isn’t a big deal. Pineda seems to be truly growing as a young pitcher to the point where he isn’t just trying to throw 100 mph with every pitch and that’s a good thing.
Obviously even I would like to be watching him light up the radar guns and I feel like I might have said this last year about Hughes, but this sort of thing does happen and a lot of times it’s no big deal. Something to keep an eye on, sure, but it’s not something to freak out about and suggesting that he could start the season in the minors seems silly. Give him time. If by the end of April/beginning of May things haven’t improved then there may be a concern there.
Instead we should be focusing on other things. For one, his changeup seems to be developing nicely. He is also doing a good job locating his pitches and seems to have solid movement on them. His slider has also been a nasty pitch too and he has done a good job mixing it well with his fastball no matter what speed it has been.